Carabao Cup Final: Manchester City vs Arsenal: A Combined XI
The 58th English League Cup final is nearing kickoff. The trophy has been brought to the former City of Manchester Stadium on five previous occasions and twice to Highbury. After being dumped from the FA Cup in the 5th round by Wigan on Monday, Pep Guardiola will want to stop the trophies from scattering to the wind in a season, when less than a fortnight gone, there was talk of a quadruple. Arsene Wenger would like to claim his first League Cup and ensure his is not a barren campaign.
With Manchester City and Arsenal scheduled to meet again midweek, across town at the Emirates, this contest could reestablish momentum for one side or the other. Here’s a combined XI selected from players available for the match.
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Pep has set new managerial records this season, winning Manager of the Month award four times in a row. He isn't likely to win it for February without claiming his first bit of English silver. That said, Pep has rebuilt the entire City team to match his will and commitment, whereas Arsene Wenger has failed to deliver results and been forced to restructure the squad in the winter window.
Although he has gone with a 4-4-2 all season, Guardiola will shake things up with a 4-1-4-1 for this game.
The Brazilian goalkeeper is the understated hero of Manchester City’s exciting run this season. Managing 12 clean sheets in 26 completed matches in Europe's most competitive league is no small achievement for a 24-year old. A fearless, enthusiastic keeper was one ingredient missing from Guardiola's recipe for Premier League success. Pep being an ardent follower of Johan Cruyff’s footballing philosophy, he has made sure Ederson is a top-class sweeper-keeper.
RB: Kyle Walker
Despite his error in the Wigan match, which basically ruined City’s quadruple hopes, the Englishman has found a place here because he is simply the best in the business. Losing is inevitable in competitive sport. One mistake can't colour judgment. Walker has complemented Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva down the right flank throughout the season. His raw pace and aggressive, innovative style set him apart from his peers. He has six assists across all competitions this season.
RCB: Nicolas Otamendi
Otamendi has become Manchester City’s pillar in defence. The General has won five Man of the Match awards for City and has a 92% pass completion rate in the Premier League. He has been lauded by the boss as City's "Superman". There is no doubting the Argentine’s improvement under Guardiola’s tutelage. His positioning, tackling, passing, and anticipation have all advanced.
LCB: Shkodran Mustafi
Winning a FIFA World Cup at 22 is every footballers’ dream. He hasn't been at his best for Arsenal this season, but neither City nor the Gunners can offer a stronger alternative. Laurent Koscielny's mobility is gone and the German reads the game better. Aymeric Laporte hasn't had the time to impress since arriving as the transfer window closed.
LB: Nacho Monreal
With Benjamin Mendy still not fit, Monreal is an ideal right-back. Wenger has already labelled him a “silent leader” who plays very simple football. He sets a strong example for the entire squad. His adaptability as a centre-back allowed Wenger to tinker with a three at the back. Robust in the defensive third, he challenges Kyle Walker's innovation on the other side, and brings impressive aerial abilities to his role.
Amicable off the pitch, the Brazilian has undergone a full transformation to become the Sky Blues fulcrum. The 32-year-old has started all but one game for City in the Premier and Champions Leagues, compiling a 90.3% pass completion rate. Fernandinho has been an integral part of City's midfield since his arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013. He brings a unique style of play when pressing high, suddenly becoming a regista in the offensive half. Granit Xhaka is no match for the Brazilian.
RM: Bernardo Silva
Even though Sterling and Henrick Mkhitaryan are available, Bernardo’s recent form has proven the boss had no business chasing after Riyad Mahrez. Guardiola apologised by promising to keep the Portuguese at the Etihad until he succeeds him as manager. The fun-loving Portuguese star has played 40 matches, most by any City player, netting five goals and assisting nine times.
RCM: Kevin de Bruyne
Guardiola must regret not starting the Belgian against Wigan. De Bruyne is Europe’s new assist-master with 18 in total. There is never a need for the centre-forward to drop deep with KDB pulling the strings. His strength in possession also allows the wide players to be just that. He's also learned to draw defenders out of position to give Fernandinho an opening to join the party. Pep’s trump card, De Bruyne has been on the pitch more than any other City player save Ederson. Aaron Ramsey wouldn't be a match for the Belgian even if he wasn't working back from injury.
LCM: Mesut Ozil
Ozil’s national teammate Ilkay Gundogan must sit out even after the match-winning brace against Basel in the Champions League. The Arsenal talisman is just too good. An aggressive, creative midfielder who likes to play as a false-10 or central winger, Ozil can also be a secondary striker as and when required. Often referred to as the German Zidane or Messi, he is neither. Rather, he is a technically and tactically sound player unto himself. Having him and De Bruyne in the same midfield would be a nightmare for any side.
LM: David Silva
And then you throw the Spaniard into the mix? That's just not fair. Still, it would be a mortal sin to not include City’s main man in this eleven. The 2010 World Cup hero has made over 330 appearances for the club. The team is built around him. Silva won the MCFC Player of the Year in 2016/17. The left-footed linchpin even played well while his mind was on his prematurely born son. The only reason to leave him off the list is for foolishly shaving off his flowing brown mane.
CF: Sergio Aguero
Aguero is another player who defies stereotype. The finisher to Silva's creative muse, the legendary duo has been downright phenomenal for Manchester City. At least one has been in every Sky Blue victory since 2011. Kun is again chasing Harry Kane for the Premier League Golden Boot and making perhaps his best case for inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year. Even though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyung is available, the Gabonese has yet to do anything in an Arsenal kit to make anyone forget Aguero.